Thursday, 20 December 2012

Letter to the Free Press: Agapao International & international aid

I want to update people living in Haslingden about the efforts my office is taking to prevent the market disposal of the Mary Hindle Centre in Haslingden by Agapao International.

I’d like to thank Caroline Collins, Kate Crane, Tony Nixon, Peter Sweetmore, Christine Calhoun Bulling, Barry Payton, Paul Lydiate and all those whose concern over the Mary Hindle Centre led to a very a very informative public meeting. Subsequent to that I have spoken with Jake Berry MP and we are united on the issue.

I have contacted every relevant stakeholding department. I have been in contact with the Land Registry regarding restrictions on sale; Vince Cable office on North West Regional Development Agency covenants on the original grant; the Charities Commission on best practice; and tabled PQs to the Cabinet Office on ethical practice; the Big lottery fund on the conditions of the grant, and DCLG on community rights. I will be following up on the replies and thought residents would welcome an update.

I intend to raise these issues further in Parliament in the future. Quite simply I do not find it acceptable that an asset, Bank House Hotel (The Mary Hindle Centre) paid for and refurbished by nearly £300,000 of public money, should ever be disposed by anyone, let alone another charity that has fallen on hard times. It belongs to the people of Haslingden and has three Haslingden charities as current tenants.

My strength of feeling has been compounded by the charity’s operation which appear to have fallen way below the standards one expects. It doesn’t seem to be doing very much and what it is doing seems to be shrouded in controversy. There are also questions surrounding missing assets on Agapao’s accounts, and disproportionate salary payments. It is my understanding that the building is being sold to keep the charity going.

The self-governance of the charity, whilst not illegal seems to be mainly friends and families of the Director; some of whom have admitted to the Charity Commission that they have not had their eye on the ball.

On an operational level there were serious questions raised around neglect in Agapao’s activities in Uganda. Corrugate metal sheeted school buildings built unfit for purpose; vulnerable young children abandoned with the charity’s sudden withdrawal, and no clear legacy from Agapao’s activities.

David Puttnams support for UNICEF's christmas charitable campaign to save child soldiers.

Nonetheless, it was remiss of me not to answer the uninformed criticism of charitable and government overseas aid at the meeting, albeit by one person, whose rant targeted aid to India. From a safe European home it is easy to blind oneself the violent, poverty stricken, unstable world that exists beyond our shores. There are untold horrors that we occasionally see through the perverse enjoyment of cinema. A nine-year-old boy who has his eyes burned out with acid so he can beg for his master. Blood Diamond mines where young children are captured and injected with heroin so they can kill and where victims are mutilated alive. Or the world’s largest killer, malaria. Horror and misery we could not begin to imagine are inflicted on poor and vulnerable people worldwide on a daily basis.

In India I saw the UK’s Aid programme in operation. I also saw three and four year old girls and boys who had been snatched from their parents and forced into prostitution, to satisfy men that believe they can have sex without catching aids this way. Many die in their teens from the physical abuse. There are a million young prostitutes in Indian slums. In Orissa, the poorest state I saw how British aid pays a small bursary to keep young girls in education and keep them away from the traffickers. We should all be proud to be British because of this.

India has the highest concentrations of poor in the world and some of the worst levels of poverty. It’s the obvious place to offer aid. Their space programme is satellite imagery to monitor potential weather disasters (helping the poor) and to observe unstable nations that would add to the regional instability. India is country incapable of acting with the compassion we do, that is not an excuse to abandon the poor, leave us at the mercy of rogue leaders and abandon Britain’s international leadership. Britain is a great country because we care.